At his best, Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum is a difference-making player at either end of the floor. But there are legitimate questions over whether the 26-year-old has the body or the mind to be that kind of force ever again.
A pair of bum knees cost him the entire 2012-13 campaign. Now a cloud has been cast over his 2013-14 season—and perhaps his career as a whole—with news that he's been suspended indefinitely, via Cavs.com:
Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant announced today. Bynum did not travel with the team to Boston last night for the team’s game this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. vs. the Celtics and has been excused from all team activities indefinitely.
If this is a sign that he's burned his final bridge in Cleveland, the question becomes whether he'll be able to find another NBA lifeline before it's too late. He's talented enough to think that another franchise may gamble on his unique combination of size and skill, but talent has never been the issue in his fall from basketball grace.
Passion for the Game
For most players, passion for the game is a prerequisite for carving a path to basketball's biggest stage. Then again, most players don't have a 7'0", 285-pound frame to fuel their rise through the ranks.
Bynum looks like a basketball player, and not just because of his super-sized body. On his good days, he'll flash grace in the low block, a soft touch around the basket and an impactful mean streak at the defensive end.
But those good days come out only when you fire up his old game film. He hasn't been dominating anything but headlines over these last few seasons.
His knees, which are already bothersome and could be getting worse, have sapped his effectiveness. But something else is missing in his game. The fire inside of him may no longer be burning, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
That part of his hoops story isn't a recent development, either. It's an uncomfortably recurring theme that has followed him for years:
He's always seemed to be the type of player who's only as good as he allows himself to be.
There were times he really bought in and became the dominant force his physical tools suggest he should have been all along—like his breakout 2011-12 season, when he set career highs in scoring (18.7), rebounding (11.8) and efficiency (22.9 PER).
Even his good times weren't free from some bad moments, though.
Like the inexcusable triple he attempted on March 27, 2012, a cringe-worthy shot he laughed about at the time and tried to defend after the game.
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak bit his tongue on his criticism of the big man, saying simply, "Andrew continues to have a mix of good moments and maybe not-so-good moments."
Bynum delayed knee surgery in 2010 so he could watch the World Cup in South Africa and vacation in Europe. He wound up missing nearly the first two months of the 2010-11 season and needing another month to find his rhythm.
Gambling on Bynum means more than just hoping that his knees hold up:
What exactly (potentially) ended his tenure in Cleveland? The same thing that ran him out of L.A.:
His body may no longer withstand the rigors of a full 82-game schedule—he's missed four games already this season—but the mental grind may be a bigger challenge if his flame is already dying. If he gets another chance to prove his passion for the sport, that chance doesn't look like it will come from his current club.
Cavs Already Moving On
But the reports coming out of Cleveland suggest that Bynum's ban could go on for a while (via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe):
The franchise's initial hope was that Bynum could push this seemingly playoff-ready roster up the league standings.
But that hasn't happened.
When his body has allowed him to play, he's looked like a shadow of his former self. He's averaging just 8.4 points on 41.9 percent shooting—his lowest field-goal percentage since his rookie season.
Given that he'd spent an entire season away from the hardwood, some rust was to be expected. On-court grades weren't supposed to be handed out this quickly.
But again, Bynum is more than just an on-court presence. Apparently, his complete package no longer fits into Cleveland's plans:
The Cavs had taken precautions with this boom-or-bust big man. The two-year deal worth as much as $24 million that he signed this summer included just $6 million of guaranteed money. There were different incentives he'd have to meet to rake in its full value, with the first financial deadline of that deal sitting just around the corner:
That time frame likely wasn't lost on Bynum.
Whatever he did to get himself suspended may have been more than convenient timing:
Well, that or the worst time for him to lose his calender:
This wasn't just an evaluation period for Cleveland. It was also a feeling-out window for Bynum, and there's a decent chance he didn't like what he was seeing with this franchise.
He may have been motivated to end this partnership sooner than later. A motivation that has now forced the Cavs to salvage what they can on the open market:
But would anyone actually be interested in him at this point? More importantly, should they be?
What's Next for Andrew Bynum?
Quite possibly nothing, at least as far as the basketball world is concerned. Burn this many bridges and suddenly there are no more outlets to explore.
Then again, size always has a way of tantalizing teams. If Greg Oden, who hasn't played since 2009, can still find a hoops home, then it's hard to imagine everyone will turn a cold shoulder Bynum's way.
The first step in his next journey will be convincing another team that his days as a problem child are over. Between his track record and the money that could still be headed his way, he needs to convince a team that he's worth the risk:
He's reportedly already come up with several options for his next NBA stop. Per Bill Simmons of Grantland:
But there are hurdles with either destination.
Cleveland will likely want something in return, and these championship contenders may not want to break up what they have. The Cavs may have much better luck finding value for him from a team that doesn't have the same desire (and opportunity) to win now:
Of course, if the Cavs simply opt to release him, that changes everything:
And we may already be heading that direction:
But enough about the when or where he will go. The bigger question is why. Why would a team feel it has the answers that no one else has found? Why would someone think that the Bynum they'll be getting is anything different from the disaster he's been over the last couple of seasons?
Why? Because teams are blinded by his size and the idea of what it could mean for their franchises.
We've all seen Bynum at his best. The talent he possesses is undeniable. He can shift the league's balance of power if he ever finds his old form.
Is it possible that he'll ever be that same kind of force again? Perhaps, although it seems highly unlikely based on everything we've seen since his days of dominance.
Will someone be willing to take that gamble again? Probably. Despite the red flags flying around him, there's still that fleeting hope that his best days aren't completely behind him.
But should they take that chance? Absolutely not.
Bynum's NBA ship has sailed, and I'm not sure that really bothers him. It should bother his potential suitors...but it probably won't.
It never has before.